Growing Demand for Luxury Tea in the Capital
TEA FOR TWO
In April this year the consumer powerhouse Unilever opened its first European tea shop in London, signalling the growing trend for a luxury cuppa in the capital.
Considering worldwide consumption of tea grew by 60 per cent between 1993 and 2010, it’s certainly proving to be big business.
Sales of luxury teas are growing at annual rate of 12 to 14 percent, according to Unilever’s refreshment business, and that’s just private consumption; leading hotels in London are seeing a 20 per cent rise in bookings for the quintessentially British ‘afternoon tea’ experience – it even has its own ‘Oscars’; an award for the “Top London Afternoon Tea” hosted by The Tea Guild (last year’s winner was The Goring).
Henrietta Lovell, founder of The Rare Tea Company, says her customer base is relatively young and concerned about the quality and provenance of their food and drink; “We sell our precious leaves to students who would rather have once cup of delicious leaf tea than 3 cups of bland bags - as well as [to] premiership footballers interested in the purity and health benefits.”
Luxury loose leaf tea can cost between £30 and £200 for 100g, but Lovell maintains the price won’t put people off as long as the quality is there – “if it’s all about pretty packaging and the product isn’t extraordinarily good, people will only buy something that costs more once. Our tea is extraordinarily good and therefore our customers are very loyal.”
THE COFFEE CONUNDRUM
Tea shops are still a relatively niche market in the UK and they face tough competition in high streets dominated by coffee chains. According to Euromonitor International's market research, coffee sales in Britain have far outpaced tea sales for the past five years.
However, the CEO of global coffee giant Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has realised that tea contains half the amount of caffeine found in coffee. Starbucks opened its first ‘Teavana’ tea bar in New York earlier this year, and is planning to open a further 1,000 shops in the next five years, offering something a little bit different and catering for health-conscious consumers.
“If good coffee can reach across markets, I firmly believe tea can,” says Lovell, whose most popular teas are the Royal Air Force English Breakfast, Whole Leaf Green China Tea and the most celebrated Earl Grey, which has developed a cult like following among her clients.
Britain is going back to its roots as a once obsessive tea-drinking nation, famous for sourcing and importing the most exquisite teas from around the world. The forgotten art and pleasure of luxury loose tea is having a resurgence, and the industry is beginning to cash-in on this once-again fashionable and profitable past-time.